Heis Hopes, Week 11: How inertia may cost Jameis Winston the Heisman

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Long-term, Jameis Winston and Florida State are fighting uphill. In Winston's case, that may help hand the Heisman to Marcus Mariota.

The front-runners

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon Ducks

Last Week: Bye
2013 Season: 144-for-255, 2,281 passing yards, 20 TDs, zero INTs; 511 rushing yards, nine TDs

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State Seminoles

Last Week: 21-for-29, 325 passing yards, one TD, two INTs; defeated Miami, 41-14
2013 Season: 149-for-212, 2,502 passing yards, 24 TDs, six INTs; 153 rushing yards, three TDs

Jameis Winston had an off week last week. He still threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown in a demolition of Miami. The most notable thing about his performance, apart from the two bad interceptions he threw, was the national spotlight being shown on his squinting as he attempted to receive play-calls from the sideline.

That's not good for Winston's Heisman candidacy, as he's facing the same problem that Florida State is in trying to get to the BCS National Championship Game: the established order is an incredibly difficult thing to overcome.

Marcus Mariota and Oregon benefit from inertia in a different way: the Ducks have always been the No. 2 team in the polls, and so they're finding it pretty easy to stay there. Mariota was a Heisman candidate that people knew about before 2013 began, so he has been able to stay at the top of the list (he was one point ahead of Winston on last week's Scripps Howard Heisman straw poll; I expect that margin to grow this week) because he's met lofty expectations.

Winston, though, would have to exceed lofty expecations — not just his own, but Mariota's. And with just two showcases left for Winston, in a road rivalry game against a Florida team well removed from greatness and a potential rematch with an overmatched Miami team in the ACC Championship Game, he's running out of chances. Mariota, conversely, has this Thursday night's showdown with Stanford, a game against high-scoring Arizona, a rivalry game against Oregon State (on the otherwise barren Friday night after Thanksgiving), and a Pac-12 Championship Game, likely against UCLA.

It's not fair that Winston's playing against Mariota's previous accomplishments, just like it's not fair that Florida State is playing against Oregon's (and Alabama's, for that matter), but the Heisman is voted on by humans, rarely thought of as perfect arbiters of fairness.

I think we're in a 1a/1b situation with Mariota and Winston right now, but Mariota's pretty clearly the national 1a (personally, I still think I'd give a hypothetical first-place vote to Winston) and Winston the 1b.

The stalking horse

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M Aggies

Last Week: 16-for-24, 273 passing yards, four TDs; seven carries, 67 rushing yards, two TDs; defeated UTEP, 57-7
2013 Season: 200-for-276, 2,867 passing yards, 26 TDs, eight INTs; 564 rushing yards, eight TDs

I still don't think Johnny Manziel's got better than a puncher's chance at the Heisman, but he's the best candidate outside those top two. And it's a shame, in a sense, because he's a better quarterback (his completion percentage, yards per attempt, and yards per game are all better than they were in 2012 — and they were all great in 2012) than he was, but less of a phenomenon.

Manziel's competition is also a lot stiffer than last year, since neither Mariota nor Winston is a linebacker or the quarterback of a workmanlike team. And while inertia's helping Mariota, Manziel's momentum was set over the summer and increased against Alabama and Auburn, games in which he produced an unfathomable 1,064 yards of total offense.

If Manziel stars in a similar way in wins over Mississippi State, LSU, and Missouri, he could still take home a second Heisman, but it's almost impossible for A&M to go to the SEC Championship Game, so he's working with those three games alone. My guess is that he's in New York for the Heisman ceremony, but well-removed from hoisting the trophy again.

Jerome Miron, USA Today

The dark horses

QB AJ McCarron, Alabama Crimson Tide

Last Week: Bye
2013 Season: 145-for-209, 1,862 passing yards, 16 TDs, three INTs

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor Bears

Last Week: Bye
2013 Season: 122-for-176, 2,453 passing yards, 18 TDs, one INT; six rushing TDs

I left McCarron out of last week's column entirely because he's not going to win the Heisman, not unless everyone in front of him loses a game and he really turns it up over the next month. But evaluating him alongside the better candidates in the race makes it even clearer.

Hell, McCarron compares better to non-Heisman candidates. He doesn't even have as many passing yards in eight games as UCF's Blake Bortles has put up in seven, and Rutgers signal-caller Gary Nova has one more touchdown pass than McCarron does. McCarron's rushing is understandably nonexistent (he's actually in net negative yardage as a rusher, thanks to sacks) and he's got oodles and oodles of talent around him, making it very easy to dismiss him as a game manager. I think McCarron's better than that tag, but his lack of reason to shed it got him shuffled to the back of this pack pretty quickly.

Meanwhile, the first of a few judgment days has come for Petty and Baylor. If Baylor can Baylor Oklahoma, by far the best defense it's seen, then Petty's stock will rise; if Baylor can't do that, Petty's probably going to look inferior to Mariota by the end of the night, given that he's sharing the stage. And Petty's far enough back as is that one night's impression could be fatal to his candidacy.

QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois Huskies

Last Week: 10-for-13, 160 passing yards, one TD; 17 carries, 119 rushing yards, four TDs; defeated Massachusetts 63-19
2013 Season: 168-of-271, 1,871 passing yards, 19 TDs, five INTs; 1,041 rushing yards, eight TDs

Lynch could have broken the 2,500/1,500 line for the second straight year (2,500 passing yards, 1,500 rushing yards), but a quiet day through the air against lowly Massachusetts has probably left him off track for that. However, Lynch has a secret weapon none of his competition gets: MACtion.

Lynch and Northern Illinois play three more times in the regular season, and all in weeknight MAC games. Two of them, the Huskies' matchups with Ball State and Toledo on November 13 and 20, respectively, are games against pretty good teams that are already bowl-eligible. If Lynch does enough to lead SportsCenter on one or both of those nights, and at least two candidates ahead of him stumble, maybe he does get to New York after all.

Off the board

QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville Cardinals

Last Week: Bye
2013 Season: 179-for-243, 2,557 passing yards, 23 TDs, two INTs

QB Sean Mannion, Oregon State Beavers

Last Week: 41-for-57, 271 passing yards, one TD; lost to Stanford, 20-12
2013 Season: 296-for-436, 3,540 passing yards, 31 TDs, six INTs

I had to look up last week's schedule to make sure that Louisville was on bye — that is another piece of evidence that Bridgewater's candidacy, which was always dependent on Louisville's team success, has irrevocably flatlined.

And Mannion, who had a chance to prove that Stanford's defense shutting him down was a one-week fluke, threw three picks to USC in a game that was otherwise very much like his lackluster Stanford performance. He may still finish as the nation's passing yardage champ, but he ain't headed to the Big Apple.

The Heisman of the Week

QB Taylor Kelly, Arizona State Sun Devils

The Line: 22-for-31, 271 passing yards, five TDs, one INT; 13 carries, 66 rushing yards, two TDs

Todd Graham may be about on schedule to leave Arizona State for his fourth or fifth dream job — it's hard to keep track, even for the purposes of hacky jokes — but he's worked magic with Kelly, who has been responsible for 66 points in his last two games through the air and on the ground. Fun fact: Two Arizona State players lead the nation in points per game — but neither is Kelly, as running back Marlon Grice is scoring 13.6 points per game (18 rushing touchdowns helps) and kicker Zane Gonzalez is putting up 11.6 per outing.

The FCS Heisman of the Week

QB Quinn Epperly, Princeton Tigers

The Line: 32-for-35, 325 passing yards, three TDs; 11 carries, 69 rushing yards, three TDs

I really didn't think I would be giving this honor to the same guy twice this season, but a week after tying an Ivy League record by throwing for six touchdowns in an overtime thriller, Epperly had six more TDs for Princeton — and an even better game.

Epperly completed 29 straight passes to begin his day, setting an NCAA record, and though he cooled off, missing three of his last six passes (slacker), he still finished with an absurd 91.4 percent completion rate. He played just one drive in the fourth quarter of Princeton's 53-20 stomping of Cornell, too, so his numbers could conceivably have been better.

And, for the record, his 30th pass of the day was dropped.

QB Jonathan Williams, Grambling State Tigers

The Line: 18-for-31, 265 passing yards, five TDs; 15 carries, 54 rushing yards, two TDs

I also couldn't let Grambling's first win this year go by without acknowledging it, because Williams was sensational in the 47-40 victory over Mississippi Valley state, accounting for all seven scores by the Tigers. Here's hoping he and the Tigers get a competent athletics department to support them at some point.

More from SB Nation college football:

TV schedule guide: The season’s biggest weekend yet

New BCS rankings: Noles reclaim No. 2 from Oregon

At the scene of the SEC’s newest bitter rivalry

Ohio State finally looks the part, and five other big stories

New bowl projections: Alabama-Oregon and all 34 others

• Long read: Inside Chip Kelly’s New Hampshire laboratory

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